One of the things that’s been helping me through the baseball-less winter, besides the NESN re-runs [ALCS 2004 starts next Monday!] and stacks of European porno, has been what I call “baseball cinema.” Every couple of nights, I rent a few baseball-themed movies, and over steak and beers and the constant nagging voice inside my head that begs me to re-examine this life I’m leading, I watch. For hours.
I figger that from the time between the victory parade and this week’s blizzard, I’ve watched a couple dozen baseball films. Some have been very, very good. Others, not so much. But with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences recently announcing this year’s Oscar nominees [no love for Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Oh, how could you.], I thought it a good time to share some of my observations about the films I’ve watched.
Most Convincing Performance as a Baseball Player: Kevin Costner. Crash Davis is simply the best baseball character ever conjured [at least in my head, and that's no place you want to be], and Costner embodies him with just the right mix of moxie and damaged pride. Hell, the dude was even a convincing baseball player in Waterworld, a film in which he didn’t actually portray a baseball player. Yep, he’s that good.
Least Convincing Performance as a Baseball Player: John Candy in Brewster’s Millions. Candy as a catcher? At 280 pounds, I gotta figure squatting for nine minutes is tough enough on this guy’s knees, let alone nine innings. Unless the pitcher was throwing fresh-baked hams. Then, y’know, I could see it.
Most Disturbing Fact: John Goodman had to lose 50 pounds to play Babe Ruth in The Babe. That’s like almost shedding a whole Craig Grebeck.
Best Baseball Movie Featuring Richard Pryor: Bingo Long and The Travelling All-Stars.
Worst Baseball Movie Featuring Richard Pryor: Brewster’s Millions.
Worst Richard Pryor Movie, Period: Another You. [Nice hats, though.]
Best Portrayal of an Announcer: David “Squiggy” Lander [who was just hired as a scout for the Seattle Mariners] in A League of Their Own and Bob Uecker in Major League. Yeah, “The Uke” does this for a living, adding color to Brewers games [somebody has to], but his Harry Doyle was one of the funniest things in the movie.
Cry-Your-Ass-Off Triple Feature: I’d never seen any of the “classics” of baseball cinema, so I rented Pride of The Yankees, which documents the rise and untimely death of Lou Gehrig; Bang the Drum Slowly, concerning a terminally ill catcher bonding with his teammates [and featuring a superb performance by Robert DeNiro]; and Fear Strikes Out, the biography of former Red Sox great Jimmy Piersall, whose desire to impress his demanding father led him to a break down. Cheeful stuff, to be sure. A nobler man might readily admit that he didn’t so much watch these films as he rolled around the floor blubbering like a six year old girl. I’m not that man.
Laugh-Your-Balls-Off Triple Feature: This ain’t no revelation, but Major League is the funniest baseball film ever made. I’d also make a case for BASEketball, in which Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame invent a backyard baseball/basketball hybrid, which The Man, as he’s known to do, tries to exploit for his own intentions. Also, the climactic scene in The Naked Gun, in which Leslie Nielsen, posing as an umpire, chases a gun-toting Reggie Jackson, is just brilliant. All this and O.J., too!
Best Baseball Movie Featuring Anthony Michael Hall: 61* depicts the summer in which Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle drank mucho brewskis, shared an apartment, chased skirt [at least The Mick did, with great aplomb in fact] and, oh yeah, pursued Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. Great performances here, but the question I was left with was how the Gollum-like Billy Crystal, who directed, ever spawned the incredibly hot Jennifer Crystal, who plays Maris’ wife.
Could Have Used More Brittany Murphy: Summer Catch could have been a great flick. Yet despite its rich subject matter — young hopefuls chasing pro baseball careers in the Cape Cod Summer League — it quickly devolves into American Pie. And not in a good way. Great scene, though, where Brittany sticks a beer bottle between her legs and then pours the contents into her boyfriend’s mouth. If only they could have stretched it to 90 minutes…
My Coach, The Drunkard: I forgot how funny the first Bad News Bears film is. Screw all that happy sunshine and dads in the park bullshit; this is the seedy underbelly of little league baseball, with Walter Matthau as ex-minor leaguer Morris Buttermaker who attempts to whip a team of gawdawful kids into shape. Tell me Morris Buttermaker isn’t the best baseball name ever, fictitious or otherwise. Say it with me. Buttermaker. Buttermaker. Yes.
Best Quote: After watching all of these films, the one quote that kept clanging around in my head was Tom Hanks’ immortal “There’s no crying in baseball” from A League of Their Own. And there isn’t.
Still on my list: I didn’t get to see For Love of the Game or Mr. 3000. Anything else I missed?